June 25, 2012
The Year of the Injuries?
With the emphasis being placed on injuries, it’s no wonder why some people are running around like Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling!” Headlines scream about injuries and range from “The Year of the Injury Plagues MLB” to “Baseball’s Biggest Stars are Hurting.” How hard and fast the sky is falling depends on the team you root for. If you live in New England, surely you have heard at least some fans making excuses about the Red Sox’ record because of the high number of DL moves. If you cheer for the White Sox or Marlins, injuries probably aren’t being brought up too much. So, who is right: those that say that the sky is falling, or those who shrug it off, understanding that Chicken Little is simply over exaggerating? I mean, could it really be that bad across Major League Baseball?
There has to be a reason though why 2012 seems like it’s been a bad year for injuries. In order to get an idea of what’s going on, I went back and looked at all DL moves between 2005 and now. I also looked at why players were placed on the DL for. What’s the injury that pops into your head when you hear a pitcher gets injured? Tommy John Surgery (TJS) is probably one of the top two, so let’s start our focus there.
Clearly, TJS is up significantly this year and is probably the biggest contributing factor in our perception behind a rise in injuries this year. So far in 2012, there have been more Tommy John surgeries through June than any in any other year. Several other players—Felipe Paulino, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Neftali Feliz, and Kyle McClellan to name a few—are either scheduled for TJS or rehabbing from a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. In fact, there have already been more surgeries in 2012 than any other full season; 2007 was the closest, with 21 surgeries for the entire year.
Right now, I don’t have a concrete explanation as to why 2012 became the year for Tommy John surgeries. There was no work stoppage during the offseason like in the NBA, and there wasn’t a particularly cold spring to cause the muscles to become more stiff and unable to withstand the forces of pitching. Tommy John isn’t getting any kickbacks for the surgery as far as I know.
One factor that likely plays a role though is velocity. High maximal pitch velocity has been linked with elbow injuries, and our Tommy John group from 2012 averaged over 94 mph on their fastballs. For comparison, the average across the majors has stayed a consistent 92 mph over the last several years. Now, it doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but remember that it includes all pitchers, even Jamie Moyer. In our TJS group, only George Sherrill averaged less than 90 mph.